The new Fisher Innovation College@Elm Center located on 20 S. Elm St. will provide a space for small businesses to start up in Oxford. This project is a collaboration between private and public entities to promote growth in Oxford, Butler County and Southwest Ohio.
This project was a vision of Miami University President Greg Crawford and the Board of Trustees. Miami alumni Lee ’68 and Rosemary Fisher ’69, provided the naming gift for the center. The center is located in an old university food service building, with dedicated areas for manufacturing, offices and a collaboration space.
Randi Thomas, vice president for ASPIRE, is the leading force for Fisher Innovation College@Elm’s creation. He said one of the main goals of the center is to improve Oxford’s economy.
“Our hope is to transform the Oxford economy from an eight-month economy, that focuses primarily on serving students of the university, to a 12-month economy,” Thomas said. “That is also supplemented with companies that are manufacturing, high-tech or online, so that there’s greater employment opportunities for folks that would be relocating to Oxford either for the university or other reasons.”
As for other goals, Thomas said the center also plans to collaborate with Butler County to find homes for the people starting businesses in either Oxford, Butler County or Southwest Ohio.
One of the center’s anchor tenants is manufacturing company, The Fischer Group, located in Fairfield, Ohio. Thomas said the group will be running a manufacturing operation at the center. Thomas said in five years, The Fischer Group plans to add 52 jobs and a payroll of just under $3 million to the Oxford economy.
“The hope is after a five-year build out, that they will be manufacturing seven days a week and 24 hours a day,” Thomas said. “... We hope to land three start-ups a year once we’re established.”
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Seth Cropenbaker, the Economic Development Specialist for the City of Oxford, said he thinks the Fisher Innovation College@Elm will have a large economic impact on Butler County and the surrounding areas.
“I think the sky’s the limit, as far as the concept of the College@Elm and specifically the facility on Elm Street,” Cropenbaker said. “If we do it right, what we’ll create is this really vibrant center. We’ll see entrepreneurs, innovators and ideators from not just Miami’s campus, but also folks from all over Oxford, Butler County and Southwest Ohio.”
Cropenbaker said Oxford operates as a mostly seasonal economy when faculty, staff and students are here, so this project will help create a more robust economy for the city.
As for the contributors to the project, Thomas said many people helped out in the community and they have raised at least $17.5 million dollars.
“One of our big leads for getting things rolling was a $1.5 million dollar grant that we received from JobsOhio,” Thomas said. “It was through their vibrant community program that had you take a building that was underutilized and dilapidated. The project is to have catalytic change within a community and clearly we’ve done that.”
Thomas said they also received funding from alumnus Richard Smucker and the City of Oxford. As well as Chrissy Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Holdings Inc.
The Butler County Board of Commissioners gave $5 million dollars to help with the development center and to address issues with COVID-19. They received $1.5 million from the state of Ohio. George Lang, an Ohio state senator, gave them a lot of support throughout the process as well.
The Fisher Innovation College@Elm backs up to the west gardens and amphitheater of the Oxford Community Arts Center (OCAC), who the center plans to collaborate with. Heidi E. Schiller, executive director of the OCAC, said the center was involved early on in the process of development.
“We were actually involved in some of the early tours that were done with potential funders, as well as interested parties in the Innovation College@Elm,” Schiller said. “President Crawford and Randi Thomas were quite clear about how the arts are integrated into the technology. Having that arts focus in a strong cultural arts area and interest in a rural community can greatly grow the economy of that community.”
As for the collaboration, Schiller said it will help increase interest in the OCAC.
“This is going to be quite the energizer for us,” Schiller said. “The more that people are working in the college and walking into that building everyday, then they see what we’re doing over here. That increases interest in our programming and what we do for the community.”
The Fisher Innovation College@Elm is open now, but is still in the process of becoming fully operational. Thomas said he looks forward to the impact the center will have on the community.
“We’re hoping that it can be a great resource to let people know that if they’ve got a good idea, there’s a place they can take it,” Thomas said. “They can have people help them work on it and get it developed. Over time, we hope to have a very large impact on Oxford and Butler County especially.”